This time last week I was spending a lovely day with my friends from the Durham Guild working on my weaving at Saltholme RSPB Reserve on Teesside as part of their Woolly Weekend. It was one of those days that will stick in my memory, not just because of the crafts and fibre events but because of the people.
I sat next to a small boy for a while who was being guided to complete a piece of weaving by the talented and lovely resident weaver on the Saltholme staff. He was fully engaged in the task in front of him and was loving the experience of producing something tangible as the fabric took form. His guide admired his work and said it was material, “just like the material of your T-shirt, but not quite so fine”. As a retired primary school teacher I recognised the look on the boy’s face. It made me fill up (I can be a bit soppy!). It was the look of a “penny-drop” moment, one of realisation that he understood something for the first time, a classic “Ah-haaaaaa!” moment. It was joyful.
Children don’t realise where things come from; don’t know how something is made; are not aware that their surroundings are manipulated by humans……and why would they? It is the job of the teacher to help them sort out the links. This little boy suddenly realised that his T-shirt was indeed woven, and he pulled it out in front of him to have a closer look. The beaming face was such a reward! Saltholme’s staff member did a marvellous job! It is moments like this that feed the Durham Guild members’ need to promote the crafts they love. And it isn’t just the children who reward us like this.
These two ladies waited patiently for the children to finish their pieces so they could “have a go” during our demonstration days at Beamish Museum at the beginning of the summer. They took their small piece of weaving away with as much delight as the children did!
One little boy, about 5 years old, watched me spinning at Beamish. He became very excited as the wheel started up. The bobbin, to him, seemed to disappear as it was going so fast! It was lovely to see. He and his class of school friends had never seen a fleece before, nor did they realise that the piece that they were feeling was full of fibres that eventually became the yarn that made their clothes. The whole process had been a mystery up until that point…if, in fact, they had ever thought of it at all before! Lovely moments.
I have been thinking lately of my own love of all things crafty….and in particular, my love of Fibre. I have always done crafty things – made my own clothes, done crochet and knitting, made things for myself and as gifts. I have never really contemplated why it gives me such a lift, and why it has become so important to me. One of my none-fibre-addict friends told me last week that I “would be alright in a zombie apocalypse” as I knew so many traditional crafts! This made me chuckle as I’d rather not be in any situation where my sock-knitting skills would be needed by survivors of such an extreme!!
However, I have been thinking of how traditional crafts are everywhere, and becoming more important to other people too. Which is a very good thing!
I saw a set of ancient spinning whorls in a Glasgow Museum recently, and was compelled to photograph them. They are beautiful! I can’t walk past a craft/wool store without stepping inside. I admire the beauty of spindles, knitting needles, stitch markers, sheep-sentries used as door stops, the feel of wool that I can’t resist! A lovely fibre-friend of mine managed to obtain an ancient yarn swift….it had been hiding in her father-in-law’s garage and was discovered today. She was quick to tell me about it, and I was quick to be envious!! Fibre “things” are just wonderful aren’t they?
Yes, I have to admit…… I am becoming quite an addict! There is no cure that I know of…..but there are worse vices to have for sure.
I never intended to take up spinning, or weaving for that matter, but the people of Durham Guild have welcomed me in with open arms and have been so willing to show me how to improve my skills. I still regard myself as a novice but I love it. One thing for sure is that belonging to a Guild is brilliant. Guilds are full of people who love the crafts, who love fibre art and who want to promote it. It doesn’t matter if you are not skillful, they are so happy to share and to teach. Guilds are not elitist in the slightest. I would encourage anyone even slightly interested in traditional crafts to find their nearest and join up!
At Saltholme I acquired a full fleece for myself, as their Woolly Weekend included sheep shearing demonstrations. Finding the sheep pen close to the visitor centre we found the shearer was busy with traditional clippers when we got there, helping a Hebridean sheep part company with its winter coat. The Hebridean is a small black sheep breed with fierce looking horns. She was being held gently and the shearing was taking quite a while…but the fleece was gorgeous.
Unfortunately that fleece had been reserved already. Thankfully I was able to watch as a sister sheep was shorn beside her using electric clippers – taking a fraction of the time and I was happy to buy it there and then. Warm weather has allowed me to wash this and I am part way through carding it…..along with more fleece….ready to spin, ply and then make up into something! I am excited to follow through from sheep to garment. I will wait to see what the yarn turns out like before deciding what to make. What a delightful process for sure!
Durham Guild members get all over, and do all kinds of things. Workshops recently have included making felted-vessels. We helped children make felt at Saltholme, along with peg-loom weaving. If you visit Saltholme don’t forget to look out for the crafted house made of samples created by the Guild. We have demonstrated at Beamish, at Broome Hill Farm, at the World Heritage Visitor Centre in Durham and members have visted St Abbs Wool festival, Woolfest in Cumbria and Edinburgh Yarn Festival…..and more. Fibre is addictive!!
The Durham Guild meet every month and we have open days for spinning and weaving but everyone is welcome at any event …..come and see us, join in, stay a while and chat…….I hope you do as I am sure you will love the people, the crafts and the fibre as much as I do.